'It's got a strange atmosphere,' one said to me as they headed back to their car.
'You should have been here yesterday,' I said, 'when the fog was rolling in from the ocean ...'
Mercifully, I didn't break into a fake West Country accent, although it was touch and go for a moment. Had the exchange lasted much longer, I would have lost out to my piratical alter ego — Cowerin' Annie Slaughter — and warned them about wreckers and smugglers and the dangers of travelin' on the moors *.
'You've been here before?' the walker said. She sounded surprised.
'A few times.' And I've seen terrible things. Things no mortal eyes were meant to see. Flee, while you still can. 'The weather's usually a bit worse than this.'
As I wandered along the trail that wound between the cushion bushes, one hand clamping my hat to my head, my ears filling with rain, I pondered on the walker's words. I didn't ponder on them too intently because the path ran quite close to the cliff top. But I considered them nonetheless.
What did she mean by 'strange'? I'd inferred that she'd meant eerie or sinister, hence my comment about the fog — a coastal cliché, if ever there was one. But it wasn't sinister. It wasn't eerie. There were no smugglers (unless one of them were Spiderman, because those cliffs are over 100m high). There were no moors. And there wasn't even a lonely sea monster attracted by the song of a distant foghorn. (Note that I didn't say siren song. Points for restraint, I think.) There was an asphalt car park, two houses, a gravel footpath, a stout wooden viewing platform with interpretative signs and arrows pointing the way along the Great South West Walk. None of these struck me as strange, sinister or eerie. I felt ripped off …
… but only for a second. Because whatever strange atmosphere had sent her and her walking companion back to their car within moments of arrival had clearly prevented them from savouring the spectacular scenery. (They might not have been so enthusiastic about the beauty of the flora but each to their own.) Had I been similarly affected by the 'strangeness' I might have missed it all.
Of course, I might be on the wrong track completely. Maybe she had meant something else by 'strange' — something without negative connotations. Not eerie, not sinister, merely unfamiliar. Perhaps the weather had driven them off rather than the ambience. Either way, it worked in my favour because I got the whole cliff top to myself. What a treat.
And for no other reasons than it's magical and uses the word 'strange' in relation to the sea, here's part of Ariel's song from The Tempest:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
* It's happened before. Years ago, my house in Yarraville was burgled but the police caught the thief in the act. I had to give a statement at the local police station. It was all fine until I turned into an extra from The Bill. The constable taking my statement didn't actually write down the words 'toe rag' but did manage a fine compromise between my semi-authentic East End monologue** and the plonker-speak of a formal statement.
** I grew up in the East End (in Bow, just as the Krays were in decline) but I was brung up proper so I didn't ever speak that way. Not until now. Such is the power of television.